At the suggestion of a fellow BAAS (Bay Area Audiophile Society) member, I abandoned futile attempts to cover every room on a given floor, and instead pinpointed systems that had turned my brothers on. In this case, it was the room shared by Flying Mole Digital and Green Mountain speakers.
One room over from Galibier, and again sporting imposing Azzolina Audio speakers, Hagerman Audio was showing another all-analog system. With no time to tune the system due to emergency equipment repairs necessitated by shipping damage, the system offered wonderful size and considerable midrange beauty, nonetheless.
In the amazing bass department, Roger Russell’s towering IDS-25 took today’s cake. With 25 drivers per side, and designed to sit very close to the rear wall with speakers and sweet-spot seat arranged in an isosceles triangle, the $18,900/pair speakers eliminate crossovers, woofers, midranges, tweeters, subwoofers...well, everything but the sound itself. With a sensitivity of 92dB, and capable of sounding their best with far less power than that offered by the room’s beefy McIntosh electronics, the IDS-25 includes a fixed active equalizer that creates purported dead flat response between 20Hz and 18kHz. Designed by McIntosh’s former chief designer, and distributed by Ken Haig (pictured) via the www.ids25.com website, the speakers are brand new; the first pair sold arrived at their happy purchaser’s home today.
Given the firepower and reputation of a system comprised of the Kharma Midi Exquisite Mk.II speakers, MBL 1621a/1611e digital front-end, MBL 6010D preamp, MBL 9008a power amps (total cost $184,420), plus Kharma Enigma Cables ($8000/1st meter pair), I figured I had finally entered the right room in which to risk auditioning Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2, the "Resurrection" (SACD, Channel Classics). Indeed, at the start of the glorious vocal section that ends the symphony, the MBLs' euphonic signature captured the violins with wonderful delicacy. Soprano, alto, and chorus too sounded wonderful, the soprano especially radiant. Given that the system’s sweetness was delivered with an enrapturing sense of air and depth, the sound swept me away. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
Gazing at the prototypes of Peter Bizlewicz’s forthcoming Panorama loudspeakers, I couldn’t help wondering if our beloved canine Baci Brown would either attack them as hostile intruders or try to mount them in a futile assertion of alpha dominance. Yes, not only the closest thing to alien invaders so far encountered at the show, but also visually hilarious, these speakers demanded a listen.
Having read and heard copious praise of the two-chassis Metronome T2i-Signature CD player ($20,600), at times accompanied by claims that it can make CDs sound as good as SACDs reproduced in two-channel mode, I was eager to hear the new one-piece Metronome CD5-Signature player, distributed in the US by Jim Ricketts of tmh audio (above). The CD5-Signature, whose somewhat plain Jane appearance conceals both a tube output stage and variable volume control that can obviate the need for a preamp, retails for a "mere" $18,000. Introduced at the RMAF, it was powered by borrowed-at-the-last-minute Boulder monoblocks feeding Zerobox 109 loudspeakers (40Hz–35kHz response for $7500/pair) via Xindak cabling.
The combo of Einstein NK60, 60W OTL monoblocks, Einstein The Tube preamp, Electric CDP7T Mk.II CD player, Adept Response power conditioning, A Cappella High Violin Mk.III horn speakers and cabling mated mellow, warm, nurturing sound with a lovely, sweet presentation. Playing the Ebony Wind Band’s take on the music of Silvestre Revueltas, the sound was especially beautiful and airy. Although not the greatest in the slam department, this system was not afraid of open, high extension. It also presented the midrange in correct proportion, which is no mean feat.
My photo of the system in the Acoustic Sounds room featured the Manley Labs Snapper monoblock amplifiers. This was the system front-end, comprising (from top to bottom): Funk Firm Vector Turntable with MK3 tonearm and Lyra Dorian phono cartridge; Sutherland Direct Line Stage; Sutherland's new battery-powered Ph3D phono preamp; and Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power transformer. Rack is the Symposium Acoustics Isis.
I began my Sunday in the Nordost room on the Tower mezzanine. Familiar with the sound of the Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, and power cables in my reference system, as well as the benefits of the Nordost Thor power distribution center that I have for review in another publication (and will not be returning), I was wondering how they would sound powering completely different components.
Photographed in a state of mild panic, as your truly was trying to figure out what was wrong with his new Canon digital camera [Answer: nothing but his brain], the dedicated Serinus RMAF work area at the Marriott is pictured in its characteristically unglorious state.
PS Audio was showing a pre-production version of the almost available Power Plant Premier ($2195), paired with the Trio C100 Control amps ($1795), Digital Link 3 DAC ($995), Usher 6311 ($2000), and PS Audio cabling. Most impressive, besides the exceptional depth of presentation, was the computer-generated comparison between the amount of noise eliminated by a $2500 power conditioner and the PS Audio Quintet Power Distribution Center, a passive line conditioner that lists for $695. (The photo shows a member of the PS Audio team gloating over the results). The new power plant, by the way, doubles the output of the old P1000, and offers significantly better efficiency and current output.
Peter Ledermann, former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation and winner of numerous IBM awards, has spent the last 16 years developing the Soundsmith Corporation product line. Amplifier, preamplifier, phono cartridges, and now speakers—Soundsmith has it all. Available factory-direct from the Soundsmith website, the Strain Gauge cartridge and preamp and just-introduced loudspeakers especially caught my ear. The most expensive speaker, the Mantis 300, lists for $5800/pair and is equipped with dual 10" high-power woofers, a 6" long-throw midrange unit, and "zero diffraction," time-aligned 1" tweeters. Specs include 42Hz–22kHz frequency range and 91dB sensitivity. All speakers include amplifier clipping indicators and tweeter protection circuitry. Next January or so promises a $3800, 100Wpc integrated amp. This is exceptionally fine-sounding gear, a must hear for vinyl lovers.
Somewhere on the 5th floor, around the corner and through the woods on the way to Grandma’s house, I discovered a lovely woman distributing CD Clarity, a water-based, non-toxic spray said to clean, protect, and restore CDs and DVDs. ("Reduce background noise, improve tracking and enhance musical balance, while cleaning and protecting discs from future scratches," says the label). Developed by the late Dave Herren of Oregon, CD Clarity joins an assortment of highly touted treatments, some of which include products from Walker Audio, Jena Labs, Audiotop, Classic Records, and Optrix. Add to that batch Nordost’s Eco3 static inhibitor, which can be sprayed on the label side of CDs.